A First Look at The Master, P.T. Anderson’s Movie That Has Nothing to Do With L. Ron Hubbard

Blend up a fresh batch of torpedo-tube hooch! We’re finally getting a few glimpses of P.T. Anderson’s long-awaited sixth feature film, his first since 2009’s 2007’s There Will Be Blood. And despite being officially untitled as recently as November, it looks like this one’s going to be called The Master after all.

You probably already know that the movie’s about the rise of a charismatic religious leader (played by Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman) as seen through the eyes of a troubled young man (Joaquin Phoenix, who replaced Jeremy Renner when financier Megan Ellison rescued the film from turnaround last year) who falls into his orbit. You probably also know that Hoffman absolutely does not in any way, shape, or form play a fictionalized version of L. Ron Hubbard, and that the religion isn’t anything like Scientology, no sir. (Yes, we’re being glib.)

Anyway, there’s finally something to see that isn’t a Zapruder-esque scrap of 65 millimeter film stock. The Weinstein Company screened four minutes of the movie for invited guests at a party in Cannes today, alongside early clips from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and David O. Russell’s The Silver Linings Playbook. Meanwhile, those of us doing our data-crumb-gathering away from the Croisette got a teaser trailer to scrutinize, and it’s just about the most grimly gorgeous 90 seconds we’ve spent in front of a YouTube window in quite a while.

As Jonny Greenwood’s score plunks forebodingly away in the background, Phoenix spaces out on the beach, crafts what looks like a handmade palm-frond machete, brawls with sailors, and (in jovially insane-sounding voice-over) answers a bunch of psych-evaluation questions about his nightmares and his propensity for violence. When there’s finally a closeup of Phoenix’s grinning face it almost hurts. This is the first time we’ve seen him onscreen without the beard and the bloat he put on to stay poker-faced while meta-pranking the world in I’m Still Here; even his strung-out Johnny Cash didn’t look this raw. Spending two hours in this dude’s company won’t be a comfortable experience; we are, nonetheless, totally sold.

The Master opens on October 12. If you’re hungry for Anderson ephemera in the meantime, here, via Criterion.com, is the first installment of a four-part conversation between PTA and Robert Downey Sr. (who played the recording-studio owner who explains the difference between an “MP” and a “YP” to Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothschild in Boogie Nights) about Downey’s first feature, the 1964 political satire Babo 73. And — because there’s never a wrong time for Paul F. Tompkins — here’s PFT talking about briefly sharing the screen with Daniel Day-Lewis, “the most intense person who’s ever lived,” in There Will Be Blood.

Filed Under: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Sneak Preview, The Master

Alex Pappademas is a staff writer for Grantland.